That Bloody #Plebishite Again


Details of the government’s planned plebiscite are appearing from the gloom, and they are not pretty. For the sake of our vulnerable, we must refuse to accept what the Liberals appear to be offering.

That bloody plebiscite – or #plebishite, as I prefer to call it – is causing the coalition no end of bother as they try to scrabble across the line. Whether by a slip of the brain, fatigue, or some weird Freudian mechanism, both Julie Bishop and Malcolm Turnbull made references indicating, as I suggested in earlier posts, a referendum-like hurdle in the mechanism.

(see Democracy, Referendum, PlebisciteWhat is a plebiscite?A Referendum for Disaster and many more – use the search box if you’re interested)


Bishop writhed around like a python trying to escape a handbag factory, eventually slithering away leaving Emma Alberici grasping nothing but shed skin.

Ms Bishop: Well, I would take my electorate’s views into account, but I would also take into account how the plebiscite played out across Australia because, for example, a referendum gets up if it is the majority of states, majority of people in the majority of states. So if that is the way it played out —

Alberici: Pardon the interruption, though. This is not a referendum?

Ms Bishop: I know that. I was saying if it were a referendum, people usually see a majority vote in a majority of states. As a plebiscite, if majority passes it across Australia, that is pretty compelling.

Alberici: And that is how you would vote?

Ms Bishop: I would wait until I see the legislation.


I don’t buy that hogwash about waiting to see the legislation, btw, this is Turnbull’s deputy, remember?

UPDATE: George Brandis, speaking on the ABC, has just confirmed that the plebishite legislation is “ready to go” in the early days of the new parliament.

I think we may safely infer from this slip that the draft legislation does indeed include a double hurdle, such as a simple majority plus a majority of electorates, a suspicion deepened when the Great & Powerful Turnbull himself almost fell into the referendum hole, and had to be dug out by a staffer. He said, re compulsory voting:

“The administrative details have not been finalised but I expect the plebiscite to be very similar to the mechanism used for a referendum.”

“There are a number of details to work out, but it will be as close as possible to the mechanism for a referendum, because again, that’s appropriate, it’s fair, it’s well accepted, it’s standard sort of procedure.”

A staffer later explained that the PM hadn’t meant to suggest that the plebishite would need to win a majority of votes in a majority of states. A simple majority would suffice. Yeah, pull the other one, Mal.

Quite how he can promise this about a piece of legislation that hasn’t been worked out yet, and which even his deputy has never even seen, is unclear. Nor is there a skerrick of evidence to back up his assertion that this would just “sail through” parliament and we’ll be marrying next year.

(Please also note the slippage from ‘we will do this by the end of the year’ to ‘I would hope to do it this year’. Our expectations are already being massaged down.)

Equally unclear is exactly what Julie Bishop, Scott Morrison, Barnaby Joyce and others, mean when they say they will “respect” the outcome of the plebiscite, but won’t commit to vote in line with the result. Quite how that is ‘respecting’ the wishes of the voters is questionable.


Yesterday Morrison that if the plebishite said “No”, it would all be over red rover.

“I’m happy to respect the decision that the country makes on this,”

“If the plebiscite carries, then the legislation should pass. That’s my view.

“If the plebiscite does not carry, then I would expect that would be the end of the matter.”

Which begs the question, if the plebishite does carry, why is that not the end of the matter? Why do we need a conscience vote as well?

Or to put it another way, why do we need to have a conscience vote if Morrison loses, but not if he wins? Someone is trying to have his cake and eat it here. Yet another example of rigging the process.

Let’s suppose for a moment that Labor, Greens and crossbenchers gang up and refuse to pass the plebishite as designed by Morrison Turnbull? What if they refuse to have a bar of his craftily worded, booby-trapped as-unwinnable-as-he-can-make-it confidence trick? What then?

Liberals sources tell me there is nothing else. As Peta Credlin said the other day, there is no Plan B (if you believe Julie Bishop, there isn’t even a Plan A). We have to go with the plebiscite, whether we like it or not because (harking back to their Thatcherite roots), they say, There Is No Alternative. Off the agenda. Case closed.

All the more reason, then, to do our damnedest to defeat the government on Saturday. Number them LAST on your lower house paper, and DON’T NUMBER THEM AT ALL on the Senate paper. You only have to number a minimum of SIX: don’t include them in that list. Let your vote exhaust before it reaches them.

But what if they are returned – which is far from certain, with the polls refusing to consistently break in any one direction?


This is a case where I think we have to go all noble and self-sacrificing, and tell them that the price they are demanding for marriage is too high, and the risks too great. No, thank you, we do not want your plebishite, and we do not want marriage equality on your terms.

In the first place, it is demeaning to have to beg for your rights. Common decency should show you that you ought not to deliberately set out to humiliate citizens in this way.

Secondly, as we have seen with Brexit, and as we have had hints of here already, a plebishite campaign will unleash such toxic venom that few of us will be unscathed. Especially our young people, and our trans people, who are already incredibly vulnerable.

Beyondblue reports that LGBTI people have the highest rates of suicidality of any population in Australia.

  • 20% of trans Australians and 15.7% of lesbian, gay and bisexual Australians report current suicidal ideation (thoughts).
  • A UK study reported 84% of trans participants having thought about ending their lives at some point.
  • Up to 50% of trans people have actually attempted suicide at least once in their lives.
  • Same-sex attracted Australians have up to 14x higher rates of suicide attempts than their heterosexual peers.
  • Rates are 6x higher for same-sex attracted young people

For their sakes we must refuse to participate in this rigged exercise, this cruel charade, this poisoned cup, and do all we can to stop it. These lives are not to be played with or spent for political advantage. Otherwise their blood will be on our hands as surely as it will be on Turnbull’s, Joyce’s, Morrison’s and Bishop’s.

Yes, it will hurt the rest of us, especially us older people. I am 66, I have been with my partner for 24 years, and unless marriage equality becomes law soon, there’s a good chance I may never be able to marry. But with years comes experience and with experience comes resilience, things our young people need time to learn.

There must be no plebiscite, whatever it costs us. It would cost the people we must protect far more.

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)